Career paths for testing specialists

I believe it is possible to have challenging opportunities and career advancement within the broad field of testing – for all kinds of people and backgrounds.

I’m probably both spoiled and privileged, so see down below for context of the following model. It is a model for career paths that is in active use as of writing. Some might consider it old fashioned or limited, but I do hope that you can learn a bit from it with regards to defining career paths for testing specialists.

Let’s look at the following titles:

  • Tester,
    • prepares test cases in a test case management tool
    • performs the testing activity
  • Technical Test Analyst,
    • prepares and initiate engineered tests
  • Test Manager,
    • prepares test plans, test strategies
    • lead the testing activity

You might have other titles at your place – the point is to identify the titles and not take the work areas too literally. On smaller delivery teams the testing specialist is both the analyst, test manager and the one performing the tests. On larger projects there may be more testing professionals with more defined roles/titles. On other projects the test managers job is more around leading SMEs in testing (and less the testers).

Notice that the test manager manages the testing, she is not a people/line manager of the testing specialists. All the testing professionals may have the same manager or be distributed into the delivery teams. That usually depends on if the company’s focus is on consultancy/projects or on products/deliveries.

There are strong trends that much test engineering is a developers discipline and that management of testing is more about coaching. Still some development organisations strive with having exploratory testers on all teams, where they dig into the specific domain and application. But the field is not all dead yet, and many organisations will have the above titles represented for years.

Based on the titles above you can identify the work usually being done, but not the skill level or span of control. This is where we usually add (promotion) levels like:

  • Junior
  • Advanced/Associate
  • Senior
  • Principal

Do use the promotions that your company uses for developers (and similar titles) and other roles! If you have ninja developers as a formal promotion level over lead developers, the by all means add that to your testing titles as well. Do insist and argue! If you fail, move away and let that company deal with not wanting to improve their people. (having the option to turn away can be a privilege too).

The levels of formal training could follow the levels of promotion. ISTQB training is one approach that is similarly scaled. That can be helpful if your organisation has a quest for certificates (for some business reason). Certificates are though just a race to the bottom.

The advancement from one level to the next could be on the basis of independence of the person. A junior level is an entry level and will usually require that the person tries it out and have a skills mentor. Advance and associate levels apply the know-how consistently on one project/delivery team.

The higher up the level, the more teams the person can apply the knowledge to at the same time (span of control, see also the law of raspberry jam). Alternatively it could also be to be able to generalize practices learned in one project and apply it to a project/delivery team that works in a different way. Senior and principal roles is more into the strategic work or work as a adviser. They could be the advisers on bids & tenders for new projects or be more of an test architect working with implementing principles for the testing activities.

Context: I work in the Danish IT outsourcing sector in a global IT company of 3000+ people. The software testing team working across projects is 30+ people (globally). The title “promotions” are used consistently in the company for various job titles: Developers, project managers etc. I have applied a similar model for 20+ testing people at other outsourcing companies and the job titles are consistent with similar software development companies in Denmark.

Denmark is a country where trust in others is very high, where there is a high wealth equality level (Gini) and where women have equal privileges to men. In the company 30% is female, with many female “middle managers” and also high in the technical hierarchy.

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